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My child seems to be losing his hair. Why is this happening?
There are a handful of possibilities, each with its own symptoms, causes, and treatments. It's not uncommon for young children to develop isolated bald spots. Your child may have developed a bare patch from sleeping in the same position night after night or from rubbing his head against the mattress.
Your child's doctor has probably already explained if your child's hair loss is the result of a medical treatment (a side effect of medication or radiation treatment, for example). Some of the other types of hair loss:
- Patchy bald spots with red, flaky scaling (and sometimes black dots where the hair has broken off) may mean that your child has a contagious fungal infection called tinea capitis, or ringworm. This is the most common cause of hair loss in children.
- Physical damage — from ponytails or braids that are too tight, for example — can result in hair loss called traction alopecia.
- Irregular patches of hair may fall out if your child twirls or pulls his hair compulsively. This is called trichotillomania.
- If your child has smooth, round, totally bald areas, he may have alopecia areata, a condition in which the immune system attacks the hair follicles, drastically slowing hair growth. This type of hair loss usually appears in isolated patches, but it can affect all of the hair on the body.
- Some medical conditions — like hypothyroidism (a thyroid disorder) or hypopituitarism (an underactive pituitary gland) — can also cause hair loss all over your child's head, although this is uncommon.
Another cause of all-over thinning (rather than patches of hair loss) is a condition called telogen effluvium. Here's what happens: Hair has a growth stage and a resting stage. The growth stage lasts about three years, and the resting stage lasts about three months (although anywhere from one to six months is normal). During the resting stage, the hair remains in the follicle until the new hair starts coming in.
Usually, about 5 to 15 percent of hair on the scalp is in the resting phase at any one time, but stress, fever, or a change in hormone levels can cause a large number of hairs to enter the resting phase all at once. The shedding begins when new hairs start coming in about three months later, when the growth stage starts up again. (The drop in hormone levels after delivery is what causes hair loss in many new moms and infants, by the way.)
What can I do about it?
Talk with your child's doctor. She'll want to determine what's causing the hair loss so you can start the proper treatment. If your child has ringworm, for example, the doctor will prescribe an antifungal medication.
If your child has alopecia areata, she may prescribe medication to try to stimulate his hair growth, or she may refer you to a dermatologist for further evaluation. (Some children simply outgrow alopecia areata without treatment.)
If your child's hair loss is due to physical damage, you'll just have to treat his hair and scalp tenderly for a while until it grows back again. (Keep in mind that most children's hair is more fine and delicate than an adult's. Opt for natural styles and brush very gently.)
If restless sleep habits are causing the problem, the condition will probably clear up on its own as your child gets older and settles down at night.
If an illness caused your child's hair loss, you don't need to do anything but be patient while it grows back over the next few months.
Resist the urge to focus on your child's behavior if he habitually pulls on it. Instead, work with your doctor to get to the bottom of your child's anxiety, nervousness, or frustration. Once that's alleviated, he's likely to drop the habit and his hair will return.
There are no guarantees, but in most cases a child's hair loss is temporary. There's a good chance your child will sport a full head of hair within a year.